July 31, 2006

Confessions of a messy gardener

I'm in the middle of the summer doldrums. All through spring I'm very gung-ho and eager to work in the garden. Then summer heat hits.

Not only is muggy weather a natural invitation to laziness, but it's not exactly the best time of the year to be moving plants around either. At least that's the way I rationalize it.

Overgrown spotTo my significant amazement, I've got several places in my beds that are badly overgrown (after only two years!) and need a substantial decluttering. My problem is that some of the plants I'd be uprooting I would want to save elsewhere. The general messiness has been exacerbated by a week's vacation followed by a several-day visit by an old friend I hadn't seen for over 20 years. It goes without saying that the garden was neglected. Mind you, the vacation and the visit were wonderful, so I guess it was worth it.

I won't bore you - and embarass myself - with a list of all the things that need tending to. But I do believe I have come to a decision.

I don't need to impress anybody, so I won't try. I'll pull the occasional excess plant, but I'll wait for cooler days to start juggling, so that poor Captain Kirk hosta is likely to stay overwhelmed for a while. After all, the garden is for my enjoyment, so as long as it's not a question of the plants' health, I'll resist the urge to pretend I'm a gardening diva and just enjoy it, messy as it is.

Come fall, I'll make room in my "composting can" by spreading all the usable stuff, and then fill it up with the rejects from the beds. This of course makes another wonderful excuse not to take action now: "The compost can is too full! Where would I pile all that stuff?"

Here's to the lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer and iced coffee on the patio!

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July 29, 2006

Filling in the gaps

Sometimes an entire flower bed refuses to cooperate. I've got one of those this year. This time last year it was a joyful riot of annuals, roses and lilies. The roses and lilies are still there, but nothing much else has gone according to plan. The bee balm has actually shrunk compared to last year, and is sick and chewed up. Perennials I've put in are still too small to put on much of a display and several have been fighting the plague of earwigs that I didn't recognize until too late. (Hey, I'd go out with a flashlight and I wouldn't see them...) The annuals didn't reseed because of the mulch I'd laid down, so I started some in containers to transplant. A little on the late side. When I did put them in, the earwigs chewed most of them down.

Large-leafed coleusOn top of it all, I've had to shelve my expansion plans, seeing as the probability of a move next year is very high. There's no point in putting in a bunch of perennials that won't hit their stride until I've been gone for two years, especially not knowing if the next owner would even keep them.

Although individual elements have been enchanting me, the bare patches were really getting on my nerves. So I succumbed to temptation some time back and came home with three large coleus plants. I generally prefer to seed my annuals, but it was way too late to start over. Two of them went into the ground, the other stayed in a pot so I could perch it on a stepping stone. An added benefit is that they have large leaves, adding very nicely to the texture of the garden as well. This particular bed is still far from being an example of good garden design, but it has perked up somewhat and a little shuffling of plants in a more propitious season should help a lot.

I was a wee bit concerned that the coleuses would find it hard going in the hot afternoon sun with the added heat radiation from the parking lot, but so far they're doing pretty well, although they do require a little more water than their neighbours (who rarely get any supplemental water) and I have had to trim off a few leaves that were browning under the relentless sun. All in all, these are minor irritations, and I am pleased enough that I'll likely take cuttings to bring inside for the winter.

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July 27, 2006

Leaves and garden design

An intriguing new (for me) idea in garden design has been changing the way I look at my garden, and seems to be making a long-term change in the way I will choose my plants in the future. I learned a long time ago to think about the different heights of my plants, and their bloom times and colour. Then I got a little more sophisticated and I started thinking about playing up the contrasts in the size and shape of plants and the size and shapes and colours of their leaves. Ferns and hostas are a natural combination in this department with the broad, bold leaves of the hostas contrasting so nicely with the tiny, lacy leaves of most ferns.

But though I had paid lip service to the idea of varying leaf sizes, I realized after reading a posting in a forum some time back that I spent much more time looking at leaf shape and colour than I did at size and that my garden was indeed chock full of plants with small leaves - long, slender ones, finely dissected ones, tear-shaped ones, but - with the exception of a couple of hostas - all small ones.

For those of us who live in more northerly areas, this is an easy situation to fall into. There just aren't many large-leafed plants that grow naturally or easily around here. Gunneras, bananas and taros just don't figure in the natural flora. And that's a pity. Because the more I mull it over and the more I stare at my gardens, the more I realize that all those small leaves contribute to an overly busy, cluttered effect. What I really need is a lot more large-leafed plants to provide a break from all the fine details and give my garden a better balance.

In honour of this new-found wisdom, I went out and bought a couple of bergenias to replace some ground covers and chose a trio of coleus with huge leaves to fill in the gaps in my front bed. I will also be eyeing some of my under-performing plants and contemplating replacing them with some of the bigger hostas. Those cannas may move out of the pots and into the beds (yes, I know, this isn't novel but I'd never thought about it before as a leaf issue) and who knows, maybe a rhubarb patch in the ornamental border might be an idea worth playing with.

On the other hand, that datura may have nice big leaves, but I do think it's time to make a little less room for it nonetheless. Where did my secateurs go?

Datura taking over the flower bed

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July 25, 2006

Let me introduce you to balsam

Impatiens balsaminaImpatiens balsamina, also known as balsam, is a versatile and easy-to-grow little annual that doesn't seem to get talked about very much. Sharing many of the characteristics of the other impatiens plants, such as exploding seed pods and easy germination, it will tolerate more sun than the more commonly available impatiens. Commercially available seeds are normally for the double variety but I have the single variety because the seeds were given to me. In the picture to the right you can see the resemblance of the flowers to jewelweed or Himalayan balsam. Watching bumblebees squeeze their fuzzy bulk all the way into the orchid-like bloom in search of pollen is one of those forms of entertainment that only gardeners seem to appreciate.

The plants in the picture are relatively young, but given a fair bit of sun and adequate moisture, they will grow to be quite bushy. On the other hand, I find balsam to be a great filler in shady and semi-shady areas, where they tend to stay narrow and fill in little gaps around developing perennials quite nicely. They will self-seed to some extent, but excess seedlings are easily removed. The seeds will also keep for years in cool dry conditions and have a very high germination rate.

Ideal conditions would be damp, rich soil in a partly shaded environment. They tend to wilt under intense sun, but will spring back once the sun has left them. Powdery mildew can be a bit of a problem later in the season, so care should be taken to water the soil rather than the leaves. I would say to leave good air circulation around them, but seeing as I myself pack my beds ridiculously tight, I can assure you that they will adapt to tight living quarters.

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July 24, 2006

Lily Parade - Part 6

You leave for a week and the lilies have a party!

Girosa lilies are spectacular!
Girosa Oriental lilies

Golden Stargazer
Golden Stargazer lily

Freak Stargazer with only four petals
Stargazer lily with only four petals

Snow Queen Easter lily
Lilium longiflorum 'Snow Queen'

Dizzy Oriental lily
Dizzy Oriental lily

My white Stargazer lilies always have stained petals
White Stargazer lilies

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Growing luscious begonias

Tuberous begonias are a great friend to shade gardeners who want a splash of bright colour in the shade all summer long. In spite of the fact the tubers have to be stored overwinter, I just can't resist trying to grow them. Over the years I've managed to make just about every mistake in the book with these babies, so I was flattered no end when Blackswamp_Girl asked me for my secret for growing them so large and healthy. Flattery will get you everywhere with me...

First, at the risk of appearing obvious, buy good tubers. Grocery store stock does not qualify. I got mine this year from Botanus, which is a great source but only available to Canadians. They probably deserve most of the credit for my success this year.

Second, good soil. I mix a plain Jane potting mix (mostly peat) with bagged manure to provide extra nutrients.

Third, start them early for longer colour. March isn't too early in my opinion. They start well and easily inside with no extra lighting needed in a northeast window and then they are just about ready to bloom when they go outside.

Sick begoniaFourth, don't overwater! My non-gardening son who tended my plants while I was gone was so afraid of things dying in the heat that he was overgenerous with the water. The begonias suffered visibly from this excess of love as you can see in this photo, although most of the potted plants didn't much mind. Earlier in the season identical begonias in identical pots were growing quite differently, with the ones under the eaves doing better in their dryer location.

Fifth, don't attempt winter storage in a hot location. Mine come through the winter just fine in the pots I grew them in outside, but last winter the heat of the furnace room killed them. Normal room temperature or a little cooler has always worked well for me, but excessive heat is obviously a no-no.

Why is it that the path to successful gardening is littered with so many unsuccessful attempts? You know the saying: "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." I'm offering the results of my bad judgment in the hopes that they might provide you with a short-cut in the process. And because Blackswamp_Girl is deft with her flattery.

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July 14, 2006

Vacation time

I'm taking a week off for a real vacation. No computer, no garden, no house, no offspring, no responsibilities. Hope you're having a great summer, and I'll be blogging again once I'm back.

July 13, 2006

The arborist returns to the scene of the crime

That's actually a bit of wishful thinking on my part. It was his boss, somebody below the manager, but above the rank and file. A foreman, I suppose.

He was a pleasant young man and was properly contrite. He did offer to replace some plants, but I didn't really see much point to that. They're all going to come back, they're just kind of battered. What I've lost here is not the plants, but some of the enjoyment of the beds for the rest of the year.

So out came his secateurs to trim back the damaged parts. Now he's off to the garden centres to buy a number of stakes to tie up all my leaning towers of Pisa so they don't break off in the next rain. Tomorrow he'll be backto install them. What I really wanted was to have my garden back the way it was before, but of course he can't give me that, and I wasn't foolish enough to ask for it. He did give me a sympathetic ear to complain into and a willingness to do what he could to make amends, which is about as much as I could hope for. With a compliment for the yard in passing, which was really good psychology and maybe even sincere.

Since the first shock of this morning has worn off, I've realized that they trimmed back a lot of the branches that overhung the yard, reducing the amount of shade I'll be getting in the back. The Jack Frost brunnera is going to get quite a shock, as it's going to be exposed to more midday sun than before. And it will be a challenge to find a new place to put the hummingbird feeder where it doesn't cook in the sun. I had a lovely shady place for it, hanging from a branch out of reach of the cats, but I'm not sure there's any appropriate place left.

On the upside, the lilies (those that didn't get broken off, anyway) and the viburnum will doubtless appreciate the extra dose of solar energy. It's an ill wind that blows nobody good.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming... This blog wasn't set up as a place to vent, but I have to admit, it does help. Hopefully, I won't have anything to vent about again for a long, long time.

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Victim of a hit and run arborist

A tree care service was out this morning removing dying pines and trimming dangerous branches on the common property. Unfortunately one of those trees overhangs my property and my largest perennial bed was hit with Weapons of Horticultural Destruction. My snowball viburnum was broken off nearly to the ground, lilies were broken and flattened, Siberian irises transformed into ground cover...

Broken viburnum

The workers took no protective measures, nor did they advise me ahead of time so that I could. Worst of all, they removed the branches from my property and left without informing me or even closing the gate! Need I add they weren't authorized to come in my yard?

I've contacted the property manager (had to leave a voice mail) and the arborist service. Fortunately I'd seen their truck, so I knew who to complain to. The manager is supposed to phone me back. At least the receptionist was pleasant.

There are more pictures here. They aren't good, but I needed documentation.

Why oh why do I keep assuming that people will act like professionals and do their jobs properly? I should have been out there making a pain of myself as soon as I heard the saws.

To be continued...

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Eye candy (complete with peanuts)

The Begonia pendula in the wall urn reminds me of fireworks, well-urned praise indeed!

Potted begonia


Begonias and friends.

Begonias and friends


First bloom on self-sown Chinese pinks.

Dianthus 'Telstar'


Peanut plant courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood squirrel!

Squirrel-sown peanut plant


Euphorbia milii blooms

Crown of thorns in bloom

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July 12, 2006

Saving seeds

The season is upon us again: harvest time.

For those of us not fortunate enough to have the room and conditions for a vegetable garden, we are talking about a harvest of seeds. Picky people are already thinking, "But seed-harvesting season lasts from spring through to late fall, depending on the plant in question." The picky people are right. But it's on my mind right now, because a number of my perennials are finishing their season of blooming, meaning that I am collecting seeds. For me, it is primarily a form of insurance, seeing as I don't have room for expansion.

So without further ado, here is a quick primer on how to harvest and save seeds. Bear in mind that there are exceptions to pretty well everything I'm going to say here, but these steps will work for the vast majority of seeds.

1. Seed pods are ready to be picked when they are turning brown and looking a little dry. If you wait until they split, you may lose the seeds inside, except for those pods thoughtful enough to open at the top and then wait for you to turn up, like poppies, rose campion and Jacob's ladder. Some nasties, like daturas and impatiens, will split when the pod is still quite green, so it is sometimes necessary to put something over the seed pod, like the foot cut off of a pair of pantyhose, to catch the seeds. This is quite effective, both at catching datura seeds and making your neighbours think you have totally lost it. The sight of a large plant draped in amputated panty hose feet is quite striking in the midst of an ornamental border. The pods on impatiens can be very gently squeezed and if they are ready, they will spring open and eject the seeds, so be prepared to catch them. As a general rule, seeds are ripe enough to harvest if they are turning dark. If they are white or light green and juicy looking, it's not yet time.

Drying seeds2. The harvested seed should be left to dry for a week or two in open containers at room temperature. If they haven't been sufficiently dried, they will tend to go mouldy in storage. Not good. An out-of-the-way place is obviously best. You don't want kids or pets (or let's face it, yourself) to scatter them on you. And do I have to say that identifying the seeds in some way is also a good idea? You can mark it directly on disposable containers, or write it on a piece of masking tape stuck on the side or even just throw in a slip of paper, but do write it down. When you remember the seeds hiding on the top of your bookcase in mid-December, you will not be able to remember which one is which in most cases. Trust me on this one.

3. I then put the dried seeds in homemade envelopes made by folding squares of paper and taping down the sides. Templates for these can be found all over the internet, but really, the shape doesn't matter very much. As long as it works. It's an extremely good idea to identify the seeds on the envelope and a very good idea to note the year they were harvested. Seeds can also be stored in small air-tight containers like film containers, but then you must be VERY sure they are dry enough. My little envelopes then go in a rectangular plastic container with an airtight lid I keep at the back of the fridge. There are very few seeds that require freezing, and considerably more that will be killed by it (tropicals and tender annuals generally), so putting them in the freezer is not recommended as a general rule. Storage in the fridge will keep most seeds viable for a number of years. I am still getting good germination from some seeds that are five and six years old, while other conk out after two or three. Don't use silica gel to keep them dry; it'll suck the life right out of them.

Exceptions to keep in mind: Peas and some other kinds of seeds turn tan or white, not dark. Tree seeds do not do well in dry storage at all, but I'll let you look up storage methods as I don't have any direct experience. Some seeds will keep quite nicely at room temperature for astonishing lengths of time, but these same seeds will generally do well in the fridge too. Some seeds need to be sown fresh, but these are less common plants generally grown by more advanced gardeners.

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July 11, 2006

You learn something new every day

Earwigs eating pollen on Becky daisiesEarwigs, it would appear, in addition to their diet of rotting vegetable matter and any seedlings I particularly prize, are also inordinately fond of pollen.

I had never come across this fact in any of my reading, but as I was conducting my nocturnal earwig/slug raids, I couldn't help but noticing that I would keep finding them in the dead center of my Becky daisies.

Earwig eating pollen on African Queen lilyMy suspicions were confirmed when I turned my attention to my lilies. There, on each pollen-bearing anther, was one very happy little earwig. I didn't think to take a picture at the time, and when I returned the next night with my camera, the pantry was apparently pretty picked over, but I still managed to find one malfeasant picking at the leavings.

Back inside, I googled "earwigs pollen" and discovered that yes, indeed, earwigs are known for their pollen-eating habits, which are disruptive primarily to hybridizers.

About the only difference this makes to me as a gardener who doesn't dabble in hybridizing is that I have to resist the urge to spray them right on the flowers. While leaves hold up for the most part quite well under the ammonia/soap spray, petals take to it much less kindly. So it's best to find a way to knock them into a bowl instead, which is a little more difficult when holding a flashlight. On the other hand the little beasties will often hide out in any available crevices of flowers such as lilies and roses for the day, making this a prime spot to catch them during day-time raids.

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July 10, 2006

Still needing your help

I have spent a ridiculous amount of time today trying to chase down the source of those pop-ups, without any real success, by adding possible sources on a dummy website. I'm now going to start trying to find them by eliminating them here, but this is a little trickier. They don't appear every time, so I really need you to drop me a quick comment or email if you do notice one. If you do, that means my most recent deletion was not the culprit.

Thanks again and I apologize for this intrusion into the normal subject matter of this blog.

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They warned me... updated

...but did I listen?? Noooooooo!

Lysimachia nummulariaCreeping Jenny will invade the lawn, said they. Whatever, thought I.

In previous years I had no problem, as my former back yard had no grass, and I'd just give it a haircut now and again when it spread too far on the patio. Last year it was not a problem, as I had it in a dry little corner that dampened its enthusiasm. (Lovely little gardening paradox there, but I'll let you chew on it without any further help.) Then I moved it out from under the overhang and the games began.

OK, so this is an overdramatization. I watched it spread into the lawn for at least a week or two before I cared enough to do something about it. At that point some of the runners were easily extending a good 12 inches into the lawn. Feeling a little sheepish at my inaction, I picked up a standard pair of household scissors, cut along the dotted line and easily pulled up all the little runners that were starting to root in the lawn. Reports of its invasiveness are greatly exaggerated.

Mind you, if I were gardening on an acre or two and had fifteen large beds to maintain, I would probably have a very different attitude. Then I would definitely avoid planting creeping Jenny near grass. But it would still be lovely along a retaining wall or tucked into containers.

And this is one of the nice things about Lysimachia nummularia aka moneywort aka creeping Jenny. If you grow a patch or two in your garden, it is an easy matter to take a handful or two and plant it in containers as a trailing plant. In mid-summer, you'll get lovely little yellow flowers as a bonus. I didn't do too much container-stuffing this year, as my patch was very small, but next year I'll likely do quite a bit more. For now, I've underplanted my potted royal fern with creeping Jenny and Johnny-jump-ups. I'll post a picture later in the season when more of it is dripping over the sides.

My original plant came from cuttings taken in the woods, as this is a native species. It does best in partial shade; too much sun tends to dry it out and not enough sun makes for fewer flowers. Mine doesn't get quite enough, but I can live with fewer flowers. The cultivar normally sold in garden centres, L. nummularia 'Aurea', has golden leaves, requires more sun because it has less chlorophyll, and is less vigorous in its growth. It would probably be a little easier to control.

UpdateI erred in calling Lysimachia nummularia a native plant. Please read Xris's comment for correction and further info.

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July 08, 2006

Don't fence me in!

Dartua with fenceYou may recall the story of my resurrected Datura meteloides, the indomitable survivor that survived a Zone 4 winter. I generally just cut off my annuals at the soil level and leave the roots to rot and add extra organic material to the soil. This root refused to rot.

I really hadn't been planning on growing datura this year, because it ran rampant over all the other residents of this bed last year, which some of them did not appreciate. But I couldn't say no to that kind of grit, so I left it. The problem is, there's now a young PG hydrangea smack dab in the middle of the bed and an aggressive datura coming at it from behind can't possibly be good for it.

So in the spirit of "good fences make good neighbours,"I put in a fence. (Robert Frost must turn over in his grave every time that line is quoted, as everybody always misses the whole point. But this is not a poetry blog, so I'll leave it there.) I took a section of the same kind of wire fencing that is protecting my beds from dogs and delivery boys and drove it into the ground in front of the datura which was already starting to overwhelm the PG. Because of the size of daturas, I used the tallest kind I could find.

A little trimming of spare branches and voilĂ ! Much easier and probably much more effective than staking. I may have to add another section later in the season, but it looks to me like it's going to work. These kids might be able to play together nicely after all.

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I need your help!

I have noticed to my horror that when I access my blog in Internet Explorer (which I seldom do - I prefer Firefox), I sometimes get pop-up ads, despite a blocker! I loathe pop-ups and I certainly don't want them on my website.

My problem is I don't know where they're coming from. I was under the distinct impression that Adsense doesn't use pop-ups. As far as I know, the other third-party add-ons I use don't use them either.

I'm determined to track down the source and eliminate it, so if any of you noticed when this started (and have retained the fact), I'd appreciate knowing, because that could help me find the culprit and eliminate it. You can post a comment here or email me.

Failing that, I'll have to eliminate the possible offenders one at a time and find out what works, so letting me know when they disappear would also be very helpful.

Thanks a lot.

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July 07, 2006

Lily Parade - Part 5

Well, I couldn't leave a picture of a spider and a slug at the top of the page for very long, now could I? ;o) But seeing as you're here, do check it out if you're not too squeamish. It really was quite cool, particularly if you're not fond of slugs.

African Queen trumpet lily
My very first trumpet lily started opening yesterday and was fully deployed by this morning. I love the peachy orange colour, but you'd already guessed that I have a weakness for orange flowers, hadn't you? The fragrance is not as nice as a longiflorum, but definitely better than an Oriental. In my humble opinion.

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Slug haters of the world, rejoice!

Spider vs. slugWe are not alone in this war! But I must confess to some amazement when I spotted this spider and its hapless victim in the back bed yesterday morning. How on earth the spider managed to haul the slug to the centre of the web is beyond me.

By contrast, the slugs I sprayed with ammonia the night before now look like bird droppings on the hosta. For those who missed it, I mix one part ammonia to nine parts water and add a good squirt of dish detergent before heading out at night with the spray bottle and a flashlight. The ammonia dispatches slugs, and the soap is fatal to earwigs. Seeing as you will often find them on the same plants, it's handy to have a double-barreled weapon.

I also use Safer's Slug and Snail Bait, a garden and pet-friendly slug bait containing ferric phosphate, a substance toxic only to slugs and snails. I believe it goes by the name Sluggo in the States.

Other common ways of battling slugs, which I do use from time to time, are crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth placed on the soil around plants that slugs are fond of. Both work by piercing the slugs' skin, causing them to dehydrate, although I don't think even slugs are stupid enough to try crawling across the eggshells. This is of limited value if the slugs are hiding in the soil inside your circle of eggshells. Used coffee grounds are somewhat helpful as a deterrent, but liquid coffee is apparently better, as I posted a couple of days ago.

Still, as you go to war against the slugs, it is nice to know that you've got allies out there, isn't it?

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July 06, 2006

Morning on the patio

It makes me happy every time I look out and see this. Coffee in hand, I head out to start my day and listen to the noisy delight of the sparrow family in my neighbour's birdhouse.

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Still blooming after all this time!

Polemonium still in bloom
This trooper has now been blooming for two months non-stop. Granted, after the first flush, there are fewer blooms, but secondary stalks keep producing new buds. There are still some unopened buds waiting for their turn. I've been very pleased with the performance of Polemonium 'Bressingham Purple'. Although shorter in height than P. caeruleum, one of its parents, it has just as long a bloom time, which I was a bit concerned about when I picked it up on a whim.

Dicentra spectabilis
Not to be outdone, even the bleeding heart has managed to squeeze out one last drop, as these new blooms show. Unlike the Jacob's ladder, it truly is on its last beat. Not that I'm criticizing. It's been a great run.

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July 05, 2006

Distinguishing between Oriental and Asiatic lilies

Emerging Asiatic lilyLily season being in full swing, I thought I'd give a quick rundown on how to distinguish between Oriental and Asiatic lilies, seeing as it's a question that seems to come up a fair bit.

There are several different "classes" of lilies: trumpet, Oriental, Asiatic, martagon, longiflorums and others, but the most commonly available are the Orientals and the Asiatics. Both are hybrids, but as groups they have common characteristics.

Asiatics are probably the easiest to grow; they are very winter hardy and reproduce easily. A healthy bulb will often double itself from one year to the next, as well as producing many smaller offspring from bulblets near the soil's surface. They look like little artichokes as they emerge from the soil and then develop a multitude of narrow leaves, bristled all the way up and down the stems.

Foliage on Asiatic liliesThe flowers come in many different colours, from delicate pastels to eye-popping Crayola colours, with the exception of blue. Don't believe any names that contain the word blue. They're lying. The blooms are not fragrant, although I've seen a couple of varieties advertised as such. If it's true, they are the exception and not the rule. In this zone, they will be in bloom in late June and early July, depending on the cultivar.

Oriental lilies, on the other hand, are a bit trickier (but just a bit) to grow and tend to spread much more slowly, mainly by the bulblets on the subterranean stem.

Emerging Oriental lilyThey look more like mini torpedoes as they emerge from the soil, pointy, with the leaves hugging the stem more closely. The leaves are less numerous and wider, sometimes almost heart-shaped in appearance. My daughter brought back a drawing from her art class in which she had sketched and coloured a lily plant the teacher had brought to class. She had carefully reproduced the entire plant and I immediately said, "Oh, an Oriental!" She was thrilled that I was able to get that far in an identification from her drawing. I wasn't foolish enough to hazard a guess as to the cultivar...

Orientals tend to come in shades of white, yellow and pink, mostly pastels, although Stargazer and Starfighter are famous for their deep pink blooms. You will often find them rimmed with a different colour, or combining two or three colours in various ways, whereas the Asiatics usually stick to a single colour, with some notable exceptions like Lollypop.

Foliage on Oriental liliesOrientals are also "fragrant," although opinions are divided as to whether this is a good thing or not. To my nose, they stink. But seeing as I'm hopelessly addicted to lilies, I put up with the smell. Judging by the complaints from my offspring the last time I got a bouquet with Casablancas in it, our family is united on this topic.

This is not just a question of taste either; apparently it's genetic. To some people the fragrance is truly enchanting, to others it is perceived as unpleasant at best.

Orientals come into play about when the Asiatics have completely given up, flowering in late July and into August. So it's a good idea to have some of both, if you like a long season of lilies. Better yet, throw in some trumpet lilies and Easter lilies to extend it even further.

Now if somebody would just double my yard space, I'd put in martagons and prairie lilies and Orienpets and LA hybrids and...

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July 04, 2006

A new use for your cuppa

Doug Green pointed out quite rightly in his blog yesterday that used coffee grounds, while having a lot of wonderful uses in the garden, aren't really much use in fighting slugs. He's more or less right. They've certainly never slowed them down much in my garden. (Now isn't that a thought? Slugs that are even slower!) He then threw in as a joke: "while I didn't exactly tell her she was wasting her time spraying yesterday's cofee (sic) on them to "kill them", I didn't exactly tell her she wasn't."

As it happens, the newbie gardener was on the right track, if she was talking about liquid coffee. Seeing as Doug jumped from grounds to spraying coffee in a single sentence as if he were talking about the same thing, it's not too clear what she actually said. I fired off a comment to him after reading his post and link rather inattentively and he quite rightly ignored it.

Now, however, as public penance - ahem - I will clarify the issue. A group of scientists in Hawaii were conducting research on ways of controlling invasive frog species and discovered quite inadvertently (gotta love serendipity) that they were killing off slugs. Here's a link to their very dry abstract which basically tells you that a caffeine solution applied to leaves or soil kills slugs and is not harmful to food crops. Now Hollingsworth and crew were using caffeine concentrations somewhat higher than that found in your standard cup of Joe, but they found that reduced concentrations were also effective, although more slowly and at a lower rate. Not only that, but slugs would turn away from leaves sprayed with a caffeine solution. If you want to read more of the details, click here. Or for a longer article from Science News, here. It is worth noting that Hollingsworth is a gardener, which helps explain his enthusiasm in following up the unexpected lead.

So you might just try pouring that cold coffee on your hosta or better yet, on the soil around it. It's probably not a good idea to do it too often, as caffeine is slightly toxic to plants too and some tender-leaved plants could sustain some damage. Oh, for what it's worth, Hollingsworth says that the grounds do deter slugs somewhat, but not as effectively as a caffeine solution.

Now if somebody could just tell me what the caffeine concentration in a cup of espresso is... I certainly don't bother with that weak-kneed instant stuff.

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July 03, 2006

Linkie Winkie - Off topic

I am shamelessly jumping on the bandwagon, I'm afraid.

If anybody does drift in from Linkie Winkie, take some time to look around. If you're at all interested in gardening, you may like what you see.

Let's boogie!

Hibiscus and lilies
My hibiscus is recovering from her hissy fit and decided she wanted in on the party with the lilies. I'm finally starting to see some bushy growth at the base, so I may yet get an attractive plant, not just a diagonal stick with exceptionally nice flowers. I have been more attentive than previously, making sure she gets watered more evenly and fertilized more frequently. Something in there seems to be working.


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Successful containers

Over at Garden Rant they were complaining, with some justification, that hanging baskets rarely work out as advertised, particularly for gardeners in hot climates. I know I've certainly had my share of lackluster performers. Seeing as I don't live in a hot climate (moot point - I've heard Floridians and Africans complain about our summer heat!), I didn't feel I had much to contribute to the discussion.

But it did get me to pondering on what containers, hanging and otherwise, have worked out well for me over the years. So, off the top of my head and in no particular order:

  • Hanging basketmini petunias
  • strawflowers
  • impatiens and coleus (especially combined, with a shot of ivy hanging over the front)
  • geraniums
  • wax begonias
  • tuberous begonias
  • four o'clocks
  • million bells
  • bacopa

And then there are the year-round denizens of pots that spend summers outdoors:
  • oleander
  • tropical hibiscus
  • crown of thorns cactus
  • cyclamen
And finally, I've been quite pleased with the look of the royal fern I've moved to a pot and complemented with violas and creeping Jenny. I'll report further on my perennials in pots when they've had a bit more of a track record.

Other than choosing appropriate plants, I think the reason for my successful hanging baskets is placing wadded newspaper in the bottom of the pot to prevent soil leakage. It also does a wonderful job of holding the moisture in the pot, which results in less stress for the plants and less watering for the gardener.

Consistent with my somewhat contrarian attitude on some things, I'm not a great fan of stuffing great numbers of plants into a single pot, no matter how fashionable it is at the moment. The result, even when it is successful, often looks cluttered and requires an almost blank canvas around it to work on the esthetic level. And I've also found that the tightly packed plants often don't prosper, at least for me. I would have gotten a much better show out of fewer, larger plants, even if it would have required waiting a bit longer to get it.

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